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US to ease some Libya sanctions in goodwill gesture

Bush plans to lift travel restrictions on Libya and improve relations as a reward to Tripoli for scrapping its nuclear arms programs.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2004 13:57 IST

U.S. President George W. Bush plans to lift travel restrictions on Libya and take other steps to improve relations as a reward to Tripoli for scrapping its nuclear arms programs, said officials.

In the first tangible step toward easing U.S. sanctions, Bush will lift restrictions on the use of U.S. passports for travel to Libya. At the same time the administration plans to ease sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to allow U.S. citizens to spend money should they visit Libya.

Sources said Bush also planned to clear the way for Libyan diplomats to work in Washington. The Bush administration has already re-established a diplomatic presence in Tripoli after more than 20 years.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to comment on any specific announcements, but said: "We continue to see progress being made by the government of Libya and we have said, as that progress is made, it will lead toward better relations."

In addition to Tuesday's steps, the administration could ease the way for the sale of medical supplies to upgrade that country's hospitals.

Administration officials have also begun discussions with key congressional committees about the possibility of providing direct aid to Libya, though dollar amounts remain in flux, congressional sources said.

Libya is eager to bring U.S. companies back, especially in the oil industry, its main source of foreign earnings.

It is unclear whether Libya could qualify for direct development assistance, and the administration would have to take several steps first, including lifting trade sanctions and removing Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Bush has seized on Tripoli's pledge to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs as an example for other countries, including North Korea and Syria, to follow.

Unless Washington drops Libya from its state sponsors of terrorism list and ends its bilateral sanctions by April, Libya is entitled under a compensation deal reached last year to halve the $10 million payout it has promised relatives of each victim of the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing.

However, that deadline can be extended if Libya and the relatives agree.

Administration officials would not say how fast the United States would be willing to act. To keep pressure on Tripoli to cooperate, congressional sources said Bush was likely to only gradually lift the ban on direct trade and U.S. imports of Libyan crude oil.

Easing the sanctions could allow U.S. oil companies to resume activities in Libya, which they had to abandon when expanded U.S. sanctions forced them to pull out in 1986. OPEC member Libya produces around 1.4 million barrels daily.

First Published: Feb 24, 2004 13:57 IST